Governor signs law inspired by Sisters woman

Jenna Sneva campaigned to protect young athletes from brain trauma

Sisters grad inspires concussion bill

SALEM, Ore. - The Brain Injury Alliance of Oregon announced that Gov. John Kitzhaber had a ceremonial signing of Jenna's Law, SB 721, which provides head injury protections to child athletes who play sports outside of school -- legislation inspired and lobbied for by a young woman from Sisters.

Jenna Sneva of Sisters was a national gold medalist at 19, but after 10 concussions, she's not only had to hang up her ski poles, she told the House Health Committee that she struggles just to stay focused on her studies at Oregon State University, as she suffers from post-concussion syndrome.

As he entered the room, Kitzhaber, a medical doctor, said, "This is long overdue."

"It felt so unreal as the governor was signing," Sneva said, "but it also feels like such a relief to know that other athletes are protected."

Nine members of Sneva's family were present with the young woman, who started a campaign to protect all young athletes from brain trauma more than three years ago.

Also present were Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, sponsor of the bill; Dr. James Chestnutt, MD, OHSU's director of sports medicine; attorney Dave Kracke; and state Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend.

In 2009, the state passed Max's Law, which applies to high school athletes, requiring coaches to be trained to recognize concussions and keep at-risk students off the field without medical permission, but no such protection was extended to children playing sports in non-school leagues. 

Max Conradt was the quarterback of his football team at Waldport High School, destined for college, when he received a blow that changed the course of his life.

Already recovering from a previous concussion, he was allowed to play too early, suffering a second, more tragic blow.  He now lives in a group home with other people who have brain injuries in Salem.

"My life would be different right now if I were pulled out of practice and the games to be checked out by a medical professional," Sneva said.

Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, a Portland Democrat who sponsored Senate Bill 721, said there has been a lot of misunderstanding about concussions.

"In the past, concussions were something you played through," she said. Today, many well-intentioned coaches just haven't been educated on what to do.  Keny-Guyer said her oldest child went back on the playing field many times when it might have been questionable.

Senate Bill 721 or Jenna's Law, requires non-youth sports leagues to educate parents, referees, coaches and children over 12 to recognize the symptoms of concussions.

And if a child does receive a potential concussion, they can't go back on the field, court, slopes or ice until a day after they are cleared by a health care professional.

Brad Jacobson, a ski instructor at Mt. Bachelor, called SB 721 a "no-brainer" in his testimony and said he would benefit from additional education to help others recognize the symptoms of concussions.

"Broken bones, cuts, bruises, sprained and torn ligaments are easy to identify, so deciding to sit out is an easy decision for coach, parent, and athlete," Jacobson said. "Concussions are a different story. You can't see the damage. The symptoms are not always obvious, and the coaches don't always know the athlete's history of concussions. To date, there hasn't been a clear explanation of the various symptoms and what is the right thing to do."

The Brain Injury Association of Oregon's mission in part is to prevent brain injuries which they do through legislative activities and community events statewide.

BIAOR is a nonprofit organization whose mission is providing education, outreach, prevention, advocacy and support services to all persons affected by brain injury, and to the general public. 

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